Countdown to the Beginning of the Year

Students raising their hands

Getting your secondary class set-up is a scramble. If you are anything like me, you are heavily focused on reviewing content, setting up engaging activities, and creating an initial semester or year-long pacing schedule in the weeks (or days) leading up to the beginning of the school year.

When you look at the ominous amounts of content that you will need to get through it is easy to think that the best option for the first days of school is to dive right into the content. BUT, it is really important to establish your class behavior expectations before the teaching begins. It turns out that even though high school students have been in classroom settings for 9+ years, they still need a strong refresh with what is acceptable in your classroom.

Identifying Expectations

We can’t teach students who do not feel safe, accepted, and comfortable contributing to the classroom conversation. However, creating a nurturing environment is difficult when expectations are not clearly established.

There are many different theories about how to create your expectations. Every teacher needs to set class rules and expectations in a way that they find effective with their student population. You might want to create the expectations with you students as a group discussion. Or create the expectations on your own and present them to the students. You could also spend the first few days going over examples of positive and negative behaviors. Just make sure that you introduce your behavior expectations in a way that clearly identifies the rules for the students so that there is no guesswork involved when determining acceptable and unacceptable behavior. We use this set of classroom management posters around the room to focus on themes of respect, diversity, organization, and talking points (how to agree and disagree respectfully, etc.).

close up of respect posters for classroom
Click the pictures for access to these sets of classroom management posters
close up of talking points poster


There will be students who push your limits no matter how clear you have made your behavior expectations. We can all think of young adults that have pushed us to the brink. The key to staying on top of problem behavior is to document and communicate.

I like to keep slips of paper in my student files that have my abbreviated class rules listed on them. I use those slips to quickly document the dates that students violate rules. Then, I can send a follow-up email or make a phone call to their parent/guardian and let them know the classroom rule that was not followed, the earned consequence that the student must complete, and let the parent know that I am here to support their student.

The dated slips allow me to document patterns of behavior. If a student falls asleep in class twice in a week, I might need to get counselors involved, but if it was out of character and we have made it through two months of the semester without a previous incident I know that it is something that I do not need to pay as much attention to.  They are also nice for scheduled parent meetings, IEPs, etc. When you see over 150 students a day it is hard to mentally keep track of all behavior issues.

Three classroom management forms
Document, document, document!

Restoring the Relationship

Sometimes a student acts out and there is a negative impact on the student-teacher relationship. I explain to students that I do not know everything, I am only human after all. When there is an incident, I like to know their perspective so that we can have a constructive conversation about how to move forward.

If students feel like they have been wronged by me I want a chance to offer my perspective, my interpretation, or my apology. Students have a hard time learning from people they dislike. It is hard to like someone who they feel does not listen or care.  So, I let my students respond to 5 questions and write a reflection about any issues that arise. When they have finished their reflection, we schedule a time to talk about what happened. This helps us to restore our relationship and revisit classroom behavior expectations.

a close up of three classroom management forms
Click the image to receive these free classroom management forms.

Sample Forms

I hope that these tips help you get your year/semester started off on the right foot. Classroom management takes constant attention and adjustment. I have included examples of the forms and handouts I would use as a part of my behavior management plan. Enjoy the year and happy planning!

Classroom Management in the Secondary Classroom
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